This is the last year the city of Dayton says it will subsidize the operation of the Dayton Convention Center on its own, and Montgomery County leaders have a choice to make about whether to help fund the facility.
Montgomery County officials and elected leaders so far have not said whether they will support raising the hotel and motel tax to 6 percent from 3 percent to help pay to upgrade the convention center — which was the recommendation of a task force convened to study and evaluate facility.
Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw on Tuesday made a direct plea to county commissioners and administrators to back a tax hike, saying the convention center is too valuable to the community to lose.
“The bottom line is that we need the county to join us in this work in order to save and invest in the convention center,” said Shaw, co-chair of the task force.
Montgomery County Commission President Debbie Lieberman said they are reviewing the information presented by the city and will have additional discussions with local and state partners.
She said the county will work with stakeholders across the county to gauge support for the city’s of Dayton’s request.
“The convention center is an asset for the entire region,” she said. “We believe a vibrant convention center is part of a dynamic downtown.”
Last month, members of the Dayton Convention Task Force shared recommendations to save the convention center and invest about $15.2 million to upgrade the facility.
The overwhelming majority of the 24-person task force recommended increasing the county lodging tax to 6 percent from 3 percent and putting the new revenue into the convention center. The extra 3 percent is projected to generate an additional $3 million per year.
The city of Dayton puts all of the revenue it receives from its 3 percent lodgings tax into the convention center, while Montgomery County contributes nothing, said Dayton Deputy City Manager Joe Parlette at Tuesday’s Montgomery County Board of Commissioners meeting.
Dayton is the only major city in the state that owns and operates its region’s convention center, and everywhere else, counties contribute money to their convention centers, Parlette said.
The city’s lodgings tax is capped at 3 percent under state law, but the county can increase its hotel/motel tax if the increase is approved by state lawmakers, officials said. About 70 percent of the county’s lodging tax goes to the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau, and 30 percent goes to other entertainment activities.
City administration on Tuesday shared information about the convention center, including financial data, market analysis and the convention center market in the state.
The convention center needs significant investment to be competitive moving forward, said Shaw.
“What would it look like to have the convention center sitting there vacant and boarded up? It’s not good,” Shaw said. “The task force made it clear that’s not something they want to see.”
Montgomery County commissioners asked Shaw and Dayton staff questions about potential third-party operators and what the response has been to the proposed tax hike from hotel operators, business groups and other stakeholders who were not part of the task force.
Shaw said his laundry business serves most of the largest hoteliers in the region.
He said he’s talked to hotel operators, and they support investing in the convention center and weren’t worried about an additional 3 percent lodgings tax.
“They see it as a regional asset and driver of business,” he said.
Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert, who was on the task force, said the next step is figuring out the “collective legislative strategy” since increasing the tax will take a vote from the Ohio Legislature.
Parlette said members of the task force have had conversations with more than three dozen hotel operators in the Miami Valley and generally they’ve been supportive of the task force’s recommendations.
Shaw said the city’s lobbyist and members of the task force will start having conversations about the convention center at the state level.
He said also they have started collecting letters of support for the tax hike proposal from community organizations and stakeholders.
It’s unclear if the city’s pitch won over county commissioners and officials. But the future of the convention center may rest in their hands, city leaders say.
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